BUFFALO, N.Y. - Buffalo Sabres defenceman Teppo Numminen skated for nearly two hours Friday, joining his team for the first time since January as he comes back from open-heart surgery in September.
Numminen skated with injured defencemen Jaroslav Spacek (ribs) and Dmitri Kalinin (right shoulder) for an hour in the morning before participating in the Sabres' pre-game skate for Friday night's meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It's been a long journey," Numminen said. "It's great to be healthy and great to be back here."
Numminen had surgery to repair a faulty heart valve that was discovered during a routine checkup ahead of his 19th NHL season, and third with Buffalo. He practised with the team in early January, but was told by team doctors then that he wouldn't be allowed to play until mid-March at the earliest to allow his sternum more time to heal.
Despite being cleared to practice, Numminen remains on Buffalo's suspended list and he's yet to be paid under the one-year, US$2.6 million contract he signed in July.
He filed a grievance with the NHL Players' Association against the Sabres in November after he failed a pre-season physical because he required the surgery.
He didn't want to discuss any details of the grievance Friday, but noted the condition that has forced him to miss most of this season should be deemed hockey related.
"That's our opinion of it. That's how I'm looking at it and the (players' association) is looking at it," Numminen said. "It's going to be settled in the future."
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said Wednesday that until Numminen is cleared to play in an NHL game, he'll continue to be suspended and won't be paid.
"It was a big decision and I don't agree with it," Numminen said of still being suspended. "If you're cleared to play, you're cleared to play."
Still, Numminen didn't commit to playing in any of Buffalo's remaining games, saying he would know more about his physical conditioning in about a week. He added there are no medical issues with his heart or chest.
"It's like any other injury. You have to go day-by-day and be smart about it," he said. "You have to push yourself to get there, but you don't want to do too much, too early."